February 25, 2002
Two high school businessmen balance homework and clients
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
While stationed at their desks, two students smile and motion to the news reporter who has just arrived. It's after lunch and the rest of the students in Mr. Ley's class study individual projects at their computers.
But the two students toward the back stand up and greet the reporter. They have prearranged with Mr. Ley permission to use class time for a media interview. They suggest the reporter talk with them in the empty classroom next door.
Once there, they introduce themselves, Cristian Graziano and Matt Plude. At first glance, the two Woodinville High students would seem to have the same cares and concerns as most other students their age. But there's one difference. Most other students don't have a company to run when not in school - juggling taxes, finances, clients and accounts. And most other students don't have a reporter wanting to know about their lives as businessmen. Graziano and Plude present their personal business cards and take a seat.
They start by saying they own separate Web design companies, based in a section of their bedrooms where they design sites for profit on their computers.
Plude, a senior and CEO of Devoted Design, explains that operating out of his home offers an advantage over competitors and he speaks for both of them when he says, "We can keep the price low because we have limited expenses in relation to others."
Both students have big goals and landed big projects for a number of well-known clients.
Graziano, a junior, owns Digimax Graphics and has been in business for close to a year. During that time, he's created web sites for the Tolt Group, Northshore Public Education Foundation and Northshore Community Services. He's also the architect behind the web site for the family business, Graziano Machining in Woodinville. Plude opened the cyber doors to his business a month and a half ago after MotoPro Suspension in Woodinville hired him to redesign their Web site. According to Plude, he gave the site "a new look and spiced it up."
John Minnich, president of MotoPro as well as Plude's uncle, admits in a later phone interview that the quality of the Web site that his nephew produced for his company was way beyond his expectation. "It's pretty awesome," Minnich says. "Our new site is getting three times the traffic compared to our old site." He says that Plude customized the site with a bright digital image of a well-known rider.
Graziano's inventive web skills also please clients. Jan Graves, Director of Community School Programs and Community Business Partnerships, comments, "I'm thrilled. And not only am I thrilled but the organizations are." Graves serves as board member for the Washington Association in Partners and Education and the Washington Alliance of Arts in Education. Both organizations recently hired Graziano to update their sites.
Plude and Graziano point out that their companies offer other services. They design flyers, business cards, brochures, company badges and multi-media CDs. Graziano says the size of a multi-media CD compares to the size of a business card. "It's interactive," he says. "You can put anything on them."
Even though they have confidence and diversity, they're not cruising easy street yet. Graziano describes the responsibility of meeting client deadlines while also meeting teacher expectations, "It can be stressful," he says, "trying to get homework done."
He spends anywhere from a few hours a day to an entire weekend working at his business.
"It depends on how much business is coming through." At times he stays up late doing his homework after working on a job for a client. "Sometimes you can't sleep until you get that thing on the web site fixed." Plude relates, "I say I 'try' to put homework first." But Plude says that when he's working on a site, he can't stop until it's finished, then he'll eat and do his homework.
The two students met this year in Mr. Ley's computer troubleshooting class. As a joint class project, Graziano and Plude collaborated and developed the school's web site from scratch.
The project was two months in the making and comprised 300 pages when completed. To show the enormity of the school site, they explain that a medium- sized web site has about 10 to 12 pages.
Graziano first thought of starting a Web design business after he saw a website a friend developed for his aunt. Also, he wanted to improve his family's business web site. "I thought, might as well learn and make one that's better." He bought a book on the topic and posed questions to his friend in order to learn more about it.
Months later, Plude had a similar idea of starting a business after Minnich hired him to update his site. Recalls Plude, "I thought (starting a business) can't be that hard."
Both students had the necessary phones and computers to get their business up and running. "Basically, most everything is done through e-mail and the phone," says Graziano. Cash was another necessary element. Graziano put $20 down for a business license and spent $35 to purchase a domain name.
Plude added that there's also a hosting charge of $4 to $100 per month. Both students claim one other important component‹the support and guidance of parents and grandparents, which they both have. Minnich also supports Plude's new venture. "I can always go to him [with questions]," says Plude.
Are their businesses profitable? "Yes," they answer in unison. Graziano says there are other benefits as well. "I've learned a lot of responsibility. And I like being able to make my own hours and be in control of everything."
Both say that the disappointing part of their businesses is to bid on a job and then lose the bid. Graziano mentions, "It's disappointing to not have work." Nevertheless, he plans for his business to grow and to hire employees "down the road."
After college, they plan to go on to something else other than continue their businesses. Neither is certain what career direction they'll take yet. Both, though, have their sights set on a profession that deals with computers.
But that's the future. Right now, Plude and Graziano have clients, finances and taxes to take care of. "I have to account for every receipt," says Plude.
For now, the two young entrepreneurs enjoy taking part in America's spirit of free enterprise. And right now, the school bell signals that Plude and Graziano have to get to their next class.
Contact Graziano at www.digimaxgraphics.com. To reach Matt Plude: visit www.devoteddesign.com.